Transgendered Football Player Jiaiyah Saelua and Next Goal wins for American Samoa Men’s Team

This is a guest post by David Merk, I want to thank him so much for writing this excellent piece!

Gender, sexuality, and football? a whole new meaning to getting beaten by a girl. Jiaiyah Saelua is the first transgendered football player to play in the 2014 World Cup Qualifier. This male to female transformation is something Jiaiyah Saelua is proud of. The game came down to the last goal, and this athletic young lady is responsible for ending American Samoa’s thirty game loosing streak, and giving them their first win in the 2014 World Cup Qualifier. This is the game the documentary, ‘Next Goal Wins,’ is based off of. The plethora of factors that influenced this win and the war on gender that occurred to catalyze this victory are, “game changing,” pardon the pun.

What is gender, sexuality and where do they fit in sports? According to a vice interview, Samoa is an incredibly tolerant society, and when she went to college in Hawaii, it was much less tolerant of her views. She realized she was a woman born a man as early as elementary school, but that was to early to come out of her proverbial cocoon, so she kept it in hiding. It wasn’t until high school that she met someone of similar ideology, and they went on to shave their legs, pluck their eyebrows, and explore gender together.

Transgender in Samoa has it’s own particular culture, it’s seen as a third gender? male, female, and transgendered. Fa’afafine translates to, ‘way of a woman,’ and applies specifically applies to the transition of being a male who becomes a female. Jiaiyah Saelua says in Samoa, “religion has practices a lot of people in the world do because you have to do them. But the more important thing is our relationship with God. If you say you love god and then you turn around and say you hate fags and fags are the devil, it’s hard to believe you have a strong relationship with God”. The culture shock she endured when she went to Hawaii for college was more than simply emasculating.

Due to American bias she wasn’t even able to play for the Hawaiian team, she wasn’t even aloud to try out or display her skills, however when she returned home she was welcomed with warm arms and by chance offered a position on the American Samoa national team. She delayed her operation and lowered her estrogen dosages and went to work on training.

Dutch coach Thomas Rongen was a huge support to the team and to Jiaiyah, she says, “he taught us to think like winners.” He even asked her what she preferred to be called, Johnny or Jiaiyah, and that show of faith was an extremely motivating factor in this victory. As soon as the FIFA gives her a position to advocate, she will be going to Brazil for this years World Cup.

That leads us to how did Jiaiyah win this game for the American Samoa foot ball team? American Samoa has continually beena t the bottom of the FIFA rankings. Essentially, it’s been the worlds worst Football team. They’ve only scored twice in the past seventeen years of professional play. They even lost 31-­0 to Australia in 2001. However when American Samoa played against Tonga, with Jiaiyah on the team, they were winning 2­1. The tie seemed to be an inevitable conclusion. At the end of the game, the goal was on it’s way in, the goalie was missing, and if Jiaiyah wouldn’t have dropped back the tie would have ensued. At the last moment Jiaiyah was able to clear the ball and gain the victory.

This coming of age, against all odds story all started many years ago. It’s a tale of nationality, acceptance, perseverance, and victory. If Samoa would have been a different place, or America would have been more accepting, this journey could have ended differently. In the end, this years FIFA World Cup will be an exciting one and and Jiaiyah is one of those players to be on the look out for.

What do you think? Is it fair to let a potential female play on the all male football team, especially when she plays this well? How would you feel if she were on your team?

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